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Mark L. Clifford's Testimony for CECC Hearing on Political Prisoners in Hong Kong

Testimony submitted by

Mark L. Clifford

President, Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation

Thank you for inviting me to share my perspective on the many political prisoners in Hong Kong. It is a subject close to my heart and my experience. Sadly, in the new Hong Kong, a simple “thank you” for your interest could be construed as “collusion” with a foreign power and put the speaker at risk of being charged under Hong Kong’s National Security Law.

Freedom of the press is no longer guaranteed in Hong Kong. The clampdown on media freedom, and specifically the destruction of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, show in microcosm how civil and political rights have been dismantled.

I was proud to be part of Apple Daily, the flagship publication of the Next Digital media group and a leading voice for democracy in Hong Kong with some 1000 employees in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

After a decades-long career in Hong Kong, holding a variety of senior positions in journalism, I served an independent non-executive director of Next Digital Ltd., Apple Daily’s owner, from May 2018 until September 2021.

The end of press freedom in Hong Kong came in June 2021, when more than 500 armed police marched into the Apple Daily newsroom, jailing senior journalists. The company’s founder and controlling shareholder, Jimmy Lai, had already been jailed on manufactured charges since December 2020. Subsequent government actions made it impossible for the company to pay its bills, including the salaries for our journalists.

Jimmy Lai has been in jail since December 31, 2020. He is kept in solitary confinement and is ritually manacled for his court appearances: disgraceful treatment for a 75-year-old man who has always preached non-violence and whose only “crime” has been the thousands of articles he has written in defense of freedom and democracy. He bears his imprisonment with grace and dignity, having accepted that it is his fate to be held captive for his beliefs.

As of May 2023, Hong Kong holds more than 1,400 political prisoners, including high-profile individuals who were active in the pro-democracy movement. In addition to Lai, they include Joshua Wong, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Gwyneth Ho. Securing the release of these and other political prisoners should be a top priority for both the Biden administration and for Congress.

My former Apple Daily colleagues also deserve support and advocacy. They have been imprisoned for nearly two years. Why am I not there with them? I just happened to be in the U.S. visiting family when the arrests were made. All the directors who were in Hong Kong at the time were arrested. I have never been able to return to Hong Kong, my home for 28 years.

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